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Meditation and Cancer

October 15, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

There are few things in life that are more devastating than being diagnosed with a malignancy. Over 12 million new cancer cases were recorded worldwide in 2008. According to the World Health Organization, those numbers appear to be growing. In 1975, nearly 6 million people were diagnosed with cancer. In 2000, that number grew to 10 million. By the year 2030, it is estimated that more than 20,000,000 people will have to deal with this reality. On this site, I regularly report on natural therapies that will hopefully offer protection from this unwelcome fate. But it’s also important to have resources available if cancer becomes a personal issue for ourselves or someone we love. (1)

One of the most promising complementary therapies for cancer patients is meditation. Several new studies have identified this practice as being an important adjunct to both alternative and conventional recovery programs. Before I review the actual data, I want to clarify my objectives, which are: 1) to dispel the notion that only certain “special” forms of meditation can be health promoting; 2) to emphasize the role that meditation can play in supporting the mental health of doctors and nurses, which in turn, can assist in the patients’ healing process.

A recent study performed at St. Mary’s College in Fukuoka, Japan examined the effects of a “mindfulness-based meditation therapy” on the mental health of 28 cancer patients. All the participants were receiving conventional “anticancer” treatment during the course of the trial. The meditative therapy involved 2 sessions. In the first, an instructor taught the patients the technique – which involved breathing exercises, meditation and yoga movements. The patients then practiced these exercises at home with the assistance of a meditative CD. Measures of anxiety, depression and “spiritual well being” were taken pre and post treatment. Anxiety and depression scores dropped by about 30% in the meditators. But these results provide only a partial picture of the apparent capabilities of mindfulness: (2)

  • A study on women with “early stage breast cancer” from the August 2008 issue of the Brain Behavior and Immunology found that “mindfulness based stress reduction” (MBSR) improved coping ability, immune function (Natural Killer cell activity) and quality of life. A reduction in cortisol levels (a stress hormone) was also detected. (3)
  • A trial from November 2007 discovered that a mindfulness program could decrease blood pressure, improve immune function, sleep quality and lower stress in a group of men and women with breast and prostate cancer. The results of this investigation were still evident at a 1 year follow up examination. (4)

There is even some research that suggests that mindfulness can positively influence the levels of select hormones (DHEA) that may affect the progression of certain hormonally-influenced cancers. This is yet another exciting mechanism by which meditation and stress management may improve outcomes in cancer survivors. (5)

One of the most popular forms of the meditative practice is known as Transcendental Meditation (TM). A study presented in the September 2009 edition of Integrative Cancer Therapies suggests that TM could be of benefit to “older breast cancer patients”. In this trial, 130 women with an average age of 64 were assigned to one of two groups – a group that practiced Transcendental Meditation and a group that received “standard care alone”. Over the course of 18 months, both groups were assessed using standardized questionnaires. The women who engaged in TM reported dramatic improvements in several areas: emotional well-being, overall mental health, quality of life and social well-being. The authors of the study offered the following concluding remarks. “It is recommended that this stress reduction program, with its ease of implementation and home practice, be adopted in public health programs.” (6)

Yet another form of meditation, referred to as Yoga of Awareness (YA), was recently examined in a similar context. The study, conducted at the Oregon Health & Science University, set out to determine whether this practice could help reduce treatment related side effects in breast cancer survivors. YA involves the use of breathing exercises, meditation and gentle yoga poses. Over the course of 8 weeks, a group of 37 breast cancer survivors with medication-induced hot flashes participated in a YA program. Notable benefits were found at the conclusion of the study. They included: reduced hot flash frequency and severity, lower levels of fatigue, joint pain, sleep disturbance and “symptom-related bother”. The participants also reported feeling more “accepted”, fewer negative moods, relaxed and vigorous. The positive outcome was still evident when the researchers performed a 3 month follow up. (7)

When we go to the doctor’s office, we’re often concerned about a number of issues. But the one thing we rarely consider is how the doctor is feeling. This may seem like an unusual matter to think about. After all, we probably don’t consider how our auto mechanic or real estate agent feels when we meet with them. But how a doctor and his nursing staff feel can profoundly affect how well they treat patients.

A study published in the September edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association offers hope for doctors who feel burned out and dispirited. A “before and after study of 70 primary care physicians” found that taking an 8 week course involving mindfulness meditation, followed by a 10 month “maintenance phase”, resulted in significant improvements in how the doctors felt and how well they cared for their patients. The physicians reported feeling less emotional exhaustion, more confident and empathetic. Improvements in emotional stability and mood were also detected. Recent studies involving both nurses and physicians have similarly found decreased anxiety and stress in those practicing various types of meditative exercises (mindfulness and “passage” mediation). The study involving “passage meditation” (also known as the Easwaran technique) concluded that this practice “enhances health professional care giving self-efficacy, and may merit inclusion in training curricula”. (8,9,10)

All of the types of meditation I’ve mentioned today differ from each other in some significant ways. Some of the practices suggest learning via professional instruction only. Others incorporate philosophical and spiritual elements. There are even some that allow you to modify the practice based on your own comfort. In my opinion, many types of meditation appear to be valid, so that the differences are not so important. I believe the key is to select a practice that has a good track record and can be reasonably incorporated into your daily life. To me, that’s what matters most.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health

11 Comments & Updates to “Meditation and Cancer”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Dear JP,

    thanks for this wonderfull article and that you bring meditation on the top. Its very effective for coping with lots of different diseases but a lot of people think its waste of time or something esoteric. I find it very interessting that we can influence our body and hormones with concentration – breath – and silence, and it no harmfull sideeffects.

    Wish you a very nice weekend,
    Nina K.

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Nina. 🙂

    I think the “art” of being mindful and enjoying silence has largely been lost in most parts of the modern world. Sometimes just getting back to what’s natural – via diet, exercise/movement and lifestyle practices – can go a long way toward promoting good health. At least, that’s my point of view.

    I hope you and yours have a wonderful weekend as well!


  3. Vadim Says:

    Harry, great article. I totally forgot that you do have this wonderful modality to visit for such bafoons as myself. As usual your article is a breath of fresh air and very informative. What brand of multi-vit are you taking? I have tried many but kind of lost intrest. I am still looking for a reputable manufacturer, any suggestions?

  4. Anita Says:

    Meditation is a great way to calm the mind and help achieve balance. I’ve found great relief from many symptoms of menopause by meditating. I began meditating when I was battling cancer a few years ago and accidentally I discovered that it has helped me tremendously as I move through the menopause transition. One of the worst problems for me are night sweats and hot flashes.

  5. JP Says:


    Thanks! It makes me feel great to know that you enjoy my writing. 🙂

    re: supplements

    It would be helpful to know what you’re looking for in a multi-vitamin/mineral. Do you want a “one-a-day” formula or something that’s higher potency? Would you prefer something that just includes nutrients or a supplement that also includes food-based extracts (berries, “greens”, herbs, etc.). We also need to consider any potential drug/nutrient interactions – if you’re taking any medication.

    The product I’m currently using falls into the latter category – it contains high level of nutrients but also many food-based antioxidants and even some fish oil.

    If you can tell me a little bit more about what you’re looking for – I can hopefully point you in a good direction. I’d be happy to try!

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Anita. I’m thrilled to hear that it’s helped you in more ways than one. I hope it’ll have the same effect for others who read about your experience and try it out!

    Be well!


  7. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi Says:

    This is an excellent post. I also want to put my comments on meditation and malignancy as under:

    Cancer Biology and Meditation
    All living beings – plants as well as animals, are made up of a large number of basic units called cells. A cell is the structural and functional unit of living beings. The adults human body contains 100 trillion cells. All these cells can trace their origins to a single cell – the fertilized egg i.e. zygote. The zygote passes through a period of rapid cell division. This process of cell division is called mitosis. This results in the formation of millions of cells from a single zygote. After the period of initial rapid division some cells start undergoing changes in their size, shape and contents in preparation of the work they will undertake later. This is called differentiation. Differentiation specializes the cell and enables it to carry out specific functions. These specialized cells come together to form tissues which together form organs and these go on to form various systems in the body. Once the cells differentiate they usually stop dividing. WE STILL DO NOT KNOW HOW THESE CONTROL S WORK.

    However, this tight control over cell division in some cells is lost and they start dividing indiscriminately to form a mass of cells which is called a tumour. They are of two types’ benign tumours and malignant tumours.

    Now the question is what is this ‘control’? Is this control involuntary and independent of nervous system? Is this control stops after the cell division stops or continues till the death of an individual?

    A recent study suggests that cells chat with one another, discussing what they will become – a neuron or a hair, bone or a muscle.

    David Sprinzak, Tel Aviv University suggests cells know when to chat and when to shut up and let other cells carry on. Sprinzak working with California Institute of Technology researchers, has uncovered the mechanism that allows cells to switch from sender to receiver mode or vice versa, the Journal Public Library of Science Computational Biology reports.

    This breakthrough opens the way to develop cancer drugs that target these transactions and halt production of cancer cells.

    The ‘control referred to above is involuntary. Can this control be maintained? How can we ensure that the tight control over cell division is not lost so that the chances of onset ’of cancer is eliminated? The role of meditation should also be viewed as a health promoter. There are three aspects of health – promotive, preventive and curative aspect of heath. Meditation promotes good health conditions. Meditation enables us to exercise voluntary control over all involuntary functions of the body. THUS MEDITATION CAN HELP US COMBAT MALIGNANCY BEFORE ITS ONSET. It has already been proved that meditation and yoga can alter the gene response.

  8. JP Says:


    Thank you very much for your insightful and thought provoking comments. Like you, I believe that meditation and many other mind-body practices are best used to maintain health, in addition to reestablishing it.

    Be well!


  9. JLloyd Says:

    Curing cancer is simple: you just have to make peace with nature.

  10. JP Says:

    Update: Support for yoga practice in breast cancer patients …


    Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2015 Jan 29.

    The effects of yoga on the quality of life and depression in elderly breast cancer patients.


    The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of yoga on the quality of life in patients with cancer.


    Twenty patients (10 were in yoga program, 10 were in exercise group) between 65 and 70 years of age under going treatment for cancer were included in the study. Physical characteristics of the patients were recorded and general physiotherapy assessments performed. Eight sessions of a classical yoga program including warming and breathing exercises, asanas, relaxation in supine position, and meditation and 8 sessions of classical exercise program were applied to participants.


    Before and after yoga and exercise program, quality of life assessments for the patients were conducted using the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP). Patients’ depression levels were assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory. Their level of pain, fatigue and sleep quality was evaluated using the visual analog scale (VAS).


    It was found that all patients’ quality of life scores after the yoga and exercise program were better than scores obtained before the yoga and exercise program (p < 0.05). When the post treatment data of the groups were compared in terms of NHP and subcategories, ER, SI, S, PA and the total scores of NHP were found significantly different in favor of Group I (p < 0.05). However EL and P scores of the NHP were not different between the groups (p > 0.05). When the groups were compared in terms of depression, pain, fatigue, and sleep quality, statistically significant differences were found in all parameters between pre and post treatment values for both groups (p < 0.05). When the post-treatment values of the groups were compared, fatigue and sleep quality were found statistically different between the groups in favor of Group I (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: It can be concluded that yoga is valuable in helping to diminish depression, pain, fatigue and helps cancer patients to perform daily and routine activities, and increases the quality of life in elderly patients with breast cancer. Be well! JP

  11. JP Says:

    Updated 03/29/16:


    Int J Palliat Nurs. 2016 Mar 2;22(3):111-117.

    Yoga as palliation in women with advanced cancer: a pilot study.

    OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate the palliative potential of home-based yoga sessions provided to women with advanced cancer.

    METHOD: Personalised 45-minute yoga sessions were offered to three women with advanced cancer by an experienced yoga teacher. Each woman took part in a one-to-one interview after the completion of the yoga programme and was asked to describe her experiences of the programme’s impact.

    RESULTS: The personalised nature of the yoga sessions resulted in similar positive physical and psychosocial effects comparable to those demonstrated in other studies with cancer patients. Participants described physical, mental, and emotional benefits as well as the alleviation of illness impacts. The enhancement of mind-body and body-spirit connections were also noted.

    CONCLUSION: Personalised home-based yoga programmes for people with advanced cancer may produce similar benefits, including palliation, as those institutionally-based programmes for people with non-advanced cancer.

    Be well!


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